You’d be hard-pressed to argue director Christopher Nolan isn’t something of a film snob, with his “I only shoot on film” this and his “Netflix is nonsense” that, but with his latest film, Dunkirk, the man has put his money where his mouth is, truly delivering a theater-going experience that will never be mimicked on Blu-ray when the film comes to home video. Dunkirk will still be awesome on Blu-ray and slightly less awesome on DVD, but there’s something about seeing the film in IMAX, having your ears boxed by gunfire and Hans Zimmer while you stare in awe at an image too large to fit within your scope of vision, that’s never going to come across in a living room.
Its bombast and grandeur aside, however, Dunkirk is still a notable film in that it is the rare piece of war cinema that is neither too gritty nor to sappy. Like only the best war films it manages to at once call into question the futility of violence and conflict while still honoring the sacrifice and valor of those at war without beating the audience over the head with an ideology. It creates emotional resonance and drama without presenting the audience with a bunch of beleaguered youth rushing out of trenches in slow motion to the accompaniment of a lone trumpet, and it creates unbearable intensity without blowing off limbs and displaying soldiers’ cradling their own guts in their arms.
The film’s effectiveness, if you do ultimately find it effective as I did, can be attributed to the sparseness of its storytelling. Having seen the film twice I can relay to you the name of exactly one character. Nolan’s script is a streamlined and lean one, offering little, if any, information beyond that which you absolutely need to know to understand the film. He strips the movie of exposition, of monologues, of comedic relief. From “go” the film barrels forward towards the unknown and inevitable fates of its characters without interruption.
That sparseness is not for everyone, but for those unencumbered by it the ultimate effect is one of intense immersion. I don’t know what Tom Hardy’s name is in this movie, I only know that he’s a human being with gorgeous eyes in the cockpit of a fighter jet that feels too cramped because it’s like I’m in there with him.
Dunkirk could almost be seen as the sort of antithesis of Nolan’s previous film, Interstellar. Where Interstellar had so many ideas and so much information that it could feel intellectually impenetrable, Dunkirk provides you with so little that you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re missing something, that more is going on then you are picking up on. But like its space-faring predecessor, Dunkirk proves to be another sturdy notch in Nolan’s belt of overwhelming cinematic spectaculars.
I’d see it in IMAX while you still can.